[In solidarity with Syria, the DPRK, Ghana (where thousands of civilians have been protesting the installation of a new US military base), Venezuela, South Sudan, and every other country struggling against the stronghold of Western/US imperialism, I decided to make this week's column post about the topic of imperialism.]There are many fitting descriptors one could use to illustrate imperialism in simple terms. An exploitative economic system between dominant and subordinate countries, an extreme and external form of colonialism, global domination, a phenomena which is simultaneously economic, systemic, and cultural. One simple description I often used with students when I taught my race/ethnicity class which resonated was "imperialism, among other descriptions, is global racism."
By time the syllabus gets to global racism, race outside of the West, and imperialism, we typically have already covered race as: a social construct, a relation to the means of production, and a relation to violence. And, by that time, we have already covered racism as something that occurs: systemically, structurally, interpersonal, and institutionally, and they (if I'm doing my job right) should be able to easily tell the difference between these different forms in their own words. Thus, by the time I introduce the concept of imperialism within the framework of global racism they have already come to know 'racism' as something ultimately violent, completely exploitative, and a system sustaining the rigid class structures of the US. With a firm theoretical and material grasp on racism—beyond liberal and Webster definitions of the word—students quickly understand what 'imperialism' is to a certain extent on their own simply by deductive reasoning with the terminology of "imperialism as global racism."
But what do I mean by this phrasing? First, we know that racism nearly could not exist, at least on an interpersonal level, without propaganda, forced and falsified narratives, tropes, stereotypes, and other means of dehumanizing myth. Black people are seen as having superhuman strength, thus a fear is instilled in officers which fuels our demise. East Asians were called "silent and obedient" during the late 1800s and early 1900s, thus fueling their exploitation in the western part of the US. The Native Americans were "savages" with no "culture" who were "civilized" by the colonists, thus a justification of the brutal genocide of settler-colonialism is placed. Latin immigrants are reportedly (and falsely) "stealing jobs" and "raping white women", thus the violent deportation + incarceration campaign against them is seen as justified. Violence, both interpersonal, "vigilante" violence and that of the state, are always forced through the strainer of mythos in hope of justification.
Moreover, this same force of racist mythos and dehumanization as justification of violence, which is a permanent fixture of racism, extends into the global sphere of interactions. The racist tropes and stereotypes and tropes surrounding populations outside the imperial core are not just 'problematic' ways of thinking, but actual propagandic mythology which confirms both political action and political identity. It is no coincidence that the narratives that Africans in places like precolonial Congo, Mozambique, and Nigeria "acted like animals" and were "savages" coincided with their colonization; that as these narratives continued to progressively, increasingly paint these populations as subhuman, the violent act of colonizing seemed more and more justifiable. This, again, is an inherent fixture of racism; that a supposition of inferiority, the notion that one race, culture, or ethnicity must inherently be inferior, is the basis for the economic and material violence that is racism.
Understanding that this creation of racist mythos extends into a global scale, one can easily understand that the violence of racism must also extend on a global scale. If racism itself extends beyond the US borders, and exists globally now, we must see that racism's compartments—structural racism, interpersonal racism, and systemic racism—also extend far. In this formulation, dehumanization is sewn into the seams of imperialist action. The racist "bully" nations (those that in virtually all cases have stepped into hegemonic positions of global power are also those who were former colonial power, this is by design not coincidence. see: Kwame Nkrumah's "Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism") are the imperialist nations, while the nations of the Global South are those who are bullied, subjected to endless violence and exploitation. The first of the two create the myths perpetuated onto the second, and thus the myths coincide with the domination of these smaller subjected nations.
Contrary to popular belief on the left, race remains absolutely relevant in each step of the imperial project. Although most facts show otherwise, we are told that in the DPRK (North Korea) people are so poor they eat cockroaches, they must all "wear the same haircut", that they "believe in unicorns" and that Kim il-Sung was a literal god who they—millions of people—blindly worship. Thus, the extreme and genocidal sanctions on the country are "justified" to the Western world. However, if there was not already an array of tropes illustrating Asian people as weak and "naturally subordinate", would we be so quick to believe these outlandish statements? It is no coincidence that the vast majority of Americans are able to believe that the people of North Korea believe in unicorns, and whatever else their government tells them without question, and blindly worship a dictator, while they (Americans) have simultaneously believed that Asian people are the most subordinate people on Earth. This is one of the most clear contemporary examples of imperialism's lean onto racism as a justification for violence; the notion of "bombing" the DPRK is discussed often, as if the Korean people are not actual human being that would suffer from such an action, because they have been made into an entire population of subhumans in the eyes of the imperialist nations.
Across West Africa, where political strife, chaos, poverty, and violence are rife due to centuries of Western colonial pillaging, this is explained by the imperialists as simply their natural tendency. It is in the "human nature" of the African, that they are "dumb" and thus politically, governmentally inept. Of course, this is purely false, but also purely racist. However despite the obvious nature of such racist trope-ification, it is the ultimate justifying mythos for the downright evil pillaging and exploitation that has taken place on the continent for centuries now. Across the Middle East, as genius historian and theorist Edward Said pointed out in his prolific masterful work, Orientalism (a set of tropes and stereotypes used by the West to demonize Muslims, Arabs, and South/East Asian to an extent as well) is the mechanism to harbor justification for heinous war crimes by Western militaries. In places like Iraq, or Palestine, or Syria, the Muslim, Arab, and terrorist have all three became synonymous to the Western gaze due to popular media, forced stereotypes, and intentional orientalist racism, and thus any act of aggression against those countries are easily "justified" by the imperialist media leaning on those tropes. The process of imperialist aggression is similar, if not the same, to that of domestic racist aggression: a historically racist trope or stereotype is used to incite the initial impact of violence—Black people are "thugs", thus the officer was afraid for his life—and then it is used to sustain and/or post-justify the site of the racist violence.
I could continue (and will; I have an article on this very topic coming out soon!), but I am sure by now you get the point. The tropes, stereotypes, and outright lies we believe about the people of other countries are often purely results of our racist programming. Turn the script around and ask yourself: if some of the things you believe about, say, North Koreans were said about a predominantly European country would you still believe it? Would you believe that people, in 2018, in the UK blindly followed their prime minister and literally believed in unicorns because they were told to believe so? (And yes, that is a real outrageous myth that Americans actually believe BTW) Racism as a structural, interpersonal, economic, and cultural violence is a global phenomena, one that fuels the imperialist war machines. A supposition of inferiority performed on a global scale. And it should upset you in every way that, inside the imperialist core, the West, if racism is a mode of horrid violence in front of your eyes, then it is often near unimaginably evil the violences done abroad, outside of eyes-reach.